"We can't wait 30 years for a UKIP government, Cameron's EU referendum is monumental!"
Tory MEP David Campbell-Bannerman on why Cameron’s referendum will scupper UKIP
Ever since David Cameron announced a referendum in his big speech on the EU, it has been a political bloodbath.
It’s all too ironic for a Prime Minister who, in his first year as Tory leader, told his party to “stop banging on” about Europe.
The Tories are all rallying behind David Cameron as UKIP barrack them for not going far enough. Labour has started to tear itself apart over what it exactly wants to do about an EU Referendum, Ed Miliband says no to it while others in his own party disagree. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg has to manage the LibDems and urge caution on the referendum idea as people keep reminding him that he campaigned to offer one at the 2010 General Election.
With the political carnage in full flow, few would be better placed to analyse the situation than David Campbell-Bannerman.
Who’s he? Well, he’s a senior Tory MEP - representing the East of England. Before politics, he trained as an accountant, and then worked in advertising, communications and also the Association of Train Operating Companies amongst other organisations.
Intriguingly, Campbell-Bannerman left the Tories for UKIP in 2004. He was elected an MEP in 2009 and later rejoined the Tories two years after.
He flew high in UKIP circles too, rising the ranks to be party chairman and later deputy leader. He did run for UKIP leader - doing so twice in 2006 and 2010 - against some chap called Nigel Farage.
In short, he has been a UKIP insider. He was a big player. And now he brings back his talents to the Tories, blazing a trail as an arch-critic of the EU and a major supporter for Britain leaving the political union.
Meeting up with him in Westminster hours after Cameron’s big speech, Campbell-Bannerman is on punchy form as he explains how Cameron has defied the odds to offer a referendum proposal that could very well knock-out UKIP and lead the way for the UK to enjoy a future free of EU regulation.
Q: UKIP leader Nigel Farage said Cameron’s EU speech meant the debate was now on his terms, what do you think?
I wouldn’t put it that way. The speech showed a lot of courage politically. Cameron has had a lot of heat from America, big figures on the Conservative party from the pro-EU side but he has stuck to his guns.
Q. Shouldn’t he have done more? Some say the referendum in 2017 isn’t soon enough!
If you study the speech, he said it’s in the first half term of a new parliament. That takes it latest to the end of 2017 but it could be as early as autumn 2015 or it could be early 2016.
My own view is that it should be within a year of that general election to maintain credibility and that is very much within the remit. We don’t know what’s going to happen in the EU by then as you could be facing a political union; German Chancellor Merkel has been openly talking about it. This has come out in the open now, people like me used to be told we were crazy for saying it was heading for it and now they’re saying exactly that.
This has got incredibly serious. Cameron has recognised that. We can’t just muddle on, we’ve actually got to address the issue and I salute him for doing so.
Q. Where do you stand on the UK’s place in the EU?
I want to leave the European Union, I want a different relationship with it. What’s fascinating is the last two years particularly that the debate has shifted from a black and white “are you in or out” debate to shades of grey. Not 50 shades of grey hopefully! Maybe 150 shades of grey!
If you look at the EEA [European Economic Area], Norway has a very interesting relationship with the EU. It opts out of just home affairs which is exactly what we’re intending to do in the Lisbon Treaty.
The problem with the EEA is that they have to go along with a lot of legislation without actually voting on it.
A lot goes through under qualified majority voting which we don’t like and isn’t good for the City of London, small businesses and is detrimental to our economy and we don’t have the power to stop it.
Norway is about to challenge for the first time a major directive, the Third Postal Directive, which scrapped all protection for the Royal Mail and has probably been a disaster for it. Norway intends to fight that under its EEA agreement, whereas Switzerland has all these bilaterals which is messier and more democratic but quite effective. It is the third largest trading partner with the EU – little Switzerland they used to call it!
Britain has a different relationship somewhere between Switzerland and Norway where there is more ability to influence legislation.
Q. But David Cameron dismisses Norway as being “governed by fax”, does it disappoint you that he doesn’t share your views?
No it doesn’t. I respect the Prime Minister’s position on this but he also respects my position on this. We’re no longer mad to have my point of view about leaving the EU. It may not be the favoured case at the moment but I have the freedom to argue it within a broad church.
“We’re no longer mad to have my point of view about leaving the EU”
You can talk about Norway, Switzerland and alternatives but noone actually knows the detail for what is possible for large country like Britain. Our starting point is we’re 12 times the size of Norway and the largest single trading partner with the EU. We import £3bn more every month than we export to them. They’ll want a trade deal because we’re such a massive market!
Q. What would you estimate is the impact of the EU on British business?
It’s about £100bn a year in red tape. The main benefit of leaving the EU is suddenly you have the ability to scrap lots of this red tape because you’re no longer duty bound to apply it. That is the main benefit because yes it’s £53m a day but that could half our national debt over two parliaments, 70 new hospitals a year, 400 new schools. It is a considerable amount of money we’re giving away to the EU with not much to show for it.
Q. How would you square the idea of the UK being business friendly with the concerns expressed by Richard Branson and Roland Rudd of distancing ourselves?
I don’t think anybody is arguing we should have access to the single market, pull up the drawbridge and abandon trade. British markets are of more benefit to continental EU companies than the other way around. It’s a bit like one way traffic.
The Prime Minister goes to Russia, India and China but we cannot do our own free trade agreements with those countries, we have to go through the EU. All this social legislation, human rights might be worthy but it’s a bit like trying to run with your feet set in concrete. We’re trying to create jobs and they’re slowing that down. The economic performance of Europe is deeply worrying.
Look at the stats, the EU was 36% of world GDP in 1980 and by 2020 it would be either 15% or in a bad year 12% of GDP. The EU collectively is falling away. It’s doing very badly relative to the rest of the world.
Q. Does it strike you as odd how the EU debate is characterised as “pulling up the drawbridge” or staying in?
It’s a false debate, there’s no question of it. Trade will carry on; everyone says that, Tony Blair has said that! We are the EU’s largest single trading partner, are they going to cut us off at the knees?
The Germans want to sell their BMWs, their Mercedes and the French want to sell their wine. Trade will carry on. But what we won’t have is the cost of membership, £55m per day. If we could strip out not at all of the £18bn, maybe half of it, it could feed through to better profits.
Q. Cameron’s speech has been criticised as a move to keep Tories on side and stop them drifting to UKIP. He has also been criticised for being rude to UKIP, describing them as a party “full of pretty odd people”. From your time in UKIP, did you find that too?
I’m not going to be derogatory about the people. There are a lot of ex-Conservatives including Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall, the deputy leader.
They are better off backing a party with MPs who have a very similar point of view and are working towards this referendum which we now have in black and white. It gives us the opportunity to either force a very different relationship within the EU, or leave altogether and have a Norwegian/Swiss.
Q. So you wouldn’t say it was helpful for Cameron to call them closet racists?
I have been party chairman of UKIP and deputy leader. I’d prefer to concentrate on the issues…
Q. But speaking as a Tory MEP, it’s not helpful if you’re trying to win people back from UKIP!
The referendum isn’t just to win over the right or keep MPs happy. It isn’t that. It is about the national interest and recognising that we’re going to have a big debate on this. Euroscepticism has actually grown and grown not just from the right but the left as well. It is unfair for domestic reasons…
Q. But from party campaigning viewpoint! Tory deputy chairman Michael Fabricant studied the damage on the Tories from UKIP…
The real worry is whether UKIP tempts away true Tories. The EU issue is close to the heart for many Tories. I think it’s better to say to them that you’re better off with a party that actually has the guts to give the public a proper vote whereas Labour and the LibDems run away from it and hide behind strange policy positions.
Q. UKIP is said to be the 3rd party in the polls, is this a sign they have become a credible party?
When I was deputy leader, I was head of policy, I worked on 18 policy groups and wrote the manifesto in 2010. I was trying to test the waters - is UKIP a proper party or a pressure group?
“UKIP is a pressure party”
I think UKIP is somewhere in between. It’s a pressure party. It uses votes to bring pressure on the single issue of the EU. There are other issues tied in to some extent but the overriding issue is leaving the EU. That has been taken on board; it’s a bit like having the tree with the Conservative logo. The green agenda has been taken away from the green party. I think this referendum will take the EU issue away from UKIP.
Q. So they’ll be irrelevant?
It will make life difficult for UKIP. I don’t think it has been designed particularly to do that but it’s not so much a reaction to UKIP but a reaction to the fact that the public in poll after poll has shown increasing irritability about the EU and willingness to leave.
The reason I left UKIP was I felt that I’m someone who wants to leave the EU, the two ways of leaving the EU are either a UKIP government or a referendum where you have a choice of an out.
In the timescale we have with the EU, talking of now of political union or federal union, we’re running out of time. We don’t have 30 years to wait for a UKIP government. I really believe the Conservatives have the ability to save our country and what David Cameron has done is amazing.
UKIP may articulate views of the Conservatives to some extent and hence get support from them in the European elections. However, Conservatives would prefer to vote Conservative and now they have a real opportunity to do so for something that is hard, fast meaningful and has the out option.
Q. How would you assess the state of UKIP?
What is concerning about UKIP is it has become very much a one-man band and a bit of a cult. There is a followership and even the constitution has been changed to favour pro-leader candidates. I don’t think that’s healthy. There are issues but it’s for UKIP to sort that out.
UKIP claims to want to leave the European Union but what I hope it will do is support the Conservative Party at the next general election to ensure we get a proper party that is properly dedicated and a proper vote on the EU with an option of leaving. That is the best use of UKIP’s resources and time rather than getting in the way and actually losing Conservative seats in very tight marginal seats, because that is not productive.
The battle has now shifted to the referendum. We’ve got the referendum pledge. The battle now is about fighting that referendum and actually being on the same side.
There are a number of UKIP MEPs who should be deeply worried about the future. My prime motivation in coming back to the Tories was I believe only the Conservatives can actually deliver leaving the EU in the timescale we have. What has happened is monumental and testament to Cameron’s courage.
Q. In his actions, Cameron is one of the most Eurosceptic PM’s we’ve ever had…!
Absolutely! I think we have a very Eurosceptic government which is encouraging. People assume that this is all some right-wing conspiracy. It isn’t! This is the majority view of the British population which has if anything got much stronger over the last few years, especially in a recession.
Q. Which leader is Cameron more like – Thatcher or Heath?
Great, thanks for your time David!
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